Battle of Monocacy

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Battle of Monocacy

Other Names: Battle of Monocacy Junction; Battle that Saved Washington

Location: Frederick County, Maryland

Campaign: Early’s Raid and Operations against the B&O Railroad (June-August 1864); 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaigns

Date(s): July 9, 1864

Principal Commanders: Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace [US]; Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early [CS]

Forces Engaged: Corps

Estimated Casualties: 2,359 total

Result(s): Confederate victory

Battle of Monocacy
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(Historical Marker)

Description: After marching north through the Shenandoah Valley from Lynchburg, the Confederate army of Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early side-stepped the Federal garrison at Harpers Ferry and crossed the Potomac River at Shepherdstown into Maryland on July 5-6 (see Maryland Civil War History). On July 9, 1864, a makeshift Union force under Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace attempted to arrest Early’s invading Confederate divisions along the Monocacy River, just east of Frederick. Wallace, joined by Ricketts’s Division of the VI Corps that had been rushed from the Siege of Petersburg, was outflanked by Gordon’s Division and defeated after putting up a stiff resistance. Hearing of Early’s incursion into Maryland, Grant embarked the rest of the VI Corps on transports at City Point, sending it with all dispatch to Washington. Wallace’s defeat at Monocacy bought time for these veteran troops to arrive to bolster the defenses of Washington. Early’s advance reached the outskirts of Washington on the afternoon of July 11, and the remaining divisions of the VI Corps began disembarking that evening. Monocacy was called the “Battle that Saved Washington.”

Battle of Monocacy Battlefield Map
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Monocacy Civil War Battle Map

(Monocacy Battlefield Map with Union and Confederate positions, as well as advance, engagement, repulse and retreat. Map courtesy Civil War Preservation Trust.)

Setting the Stage: Robert E. Lee was concerned about Hunter's advances in the Valley during 1864, which threatened critical railroad lines and provisions for the Virginia-based Confederate forces. He sent Jubal Early's corps to sweep Union forces from the Valley and, if possible, to menace Washington, D.C., hoping to compel Grant to dilute his forces against Lee around Petersburg, Virginia. Early was operating in the shadow of Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, whose 1862 Valley Campaign against superior forces was etched in Confederate history. (Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign: A History with Maps and Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign of 1862: Confederate Military History) Early had a good start. He proceeded down the Valley without opposition, bypassed Harpers Ferry, crossed the Potomac River, and advanced into Maryland. Grant dispatched a corps under Horatio G. Wright and other troops under George Crook to reinforce Washington and pursue Early.


The Battle of Monocacy, also known as the Battle of Monocacy Junction or Battle that Saved Washington, was one of several battles fought during Early's Raid and Operations against the B&O Railroad (June-August 1864). Early's Operations against the B&O Railroad, often times referred to as Early's Raid or Early's Maryland Campaign, was part of the Shenandoah Valley Campaigns of 1864 and was the second of three principal campaigns fought throughout the valley region.

Early's Raid and Operations Against the B&O Railroad [June-August 1864], aka Early's Maryland Campaign, comprised the following battles: Monocacy – Fort Stevens – Heaton's Crossroads – Cool Spring – Rutherford's FarmKernstown II – Folck's MillMoorefield.

Battle of Monocacy Map
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Civil War Monocacy Battle Map

Battle of Monocacy, Maryland, Map
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(Click to Enlarge)

Reacting to Early's raid, Union General-in-Chief Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant dispatched two brigades of the VI Corps, about 5,000 men, under Brig. Gen. James B. Ricketts on July 6, 1864. Until those troops arrived, however, the only Federal force between Early and the capital city was a command of 6,300 men (mostly Hundred Days Men) commanded by Major General Lew Wallace. At the time, Wallace, who would eventually become best known for his book Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, was the head of the Union's Middle Atlantic Department, headquartered at Baltimore (also referred to as the VIII Corps). Very few of Wallace's men had ever seen battle.
Agents of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad reported signs of Early's advance on June 29; this intelligence and subsequent reports were passed to Wallace by John W. Garrett, the president of the railroad and a Union supporter. Uncertain whether Baltimore or Washington, D.C. was the Confederate objective, Wallace knew he had to delay their approach until reinforcements could reach either city.
At Frederick, following skirmishing on July 7 and 8, in which Confederate cavalry drove Union units from the town, Early demanded, and received, $200,000 ransom to forestall his destruction of the city. Wallace saw Monocacy Junction, also called Frederick Junction, three miles southeast of Frederick, as the most logical point of defense for both Baltimore and Washington. The Georgetown Pike to Washington and the National Road to Baltimore both crossed the Monocacy River there as did the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. If Wallace could stretch his force over six miles of the stream to protect both turnpike bridges, the railroad bridge, and several fords, he could make Early disclose the strength and objective of the Confederate force and delay him as long as possible.
At first Wallace's forces along the Monocacy consisted of Brigadier General Erastus B. Tyler's First Separate Brigade (which included units from other brigades) and a cavalry force commanded by Lieutenant Colonel David Clendenin. His prospects improved with word that the first contingent of VI Corps troops commanded by Ricketts had reached Baltimore and were rushing by rail to join Wallace at the Monocacy. Although originally ordered to Harpers Ferry, Ricketts agreed to remain at the Monocacy. On Saturday, July 9, combined forces of Wallace and Ricketts, numbering about 5,800, were positioned at the bridges and fords of the river. The higher elevation of the river's east bank formed a natural breastwork for some of the soldiers. Tyler's brigade occupied the two block-houses and trenches the soldiers had dug with a few available tools near the bridges. Ricketts's division occupied the Thomas and Worthington farms on the Union left, using the fences as breastworks.

Battle of Monocacy, Maryland, Civil War History
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Monocacy Civil War Battle

Monocacy Maryland Civil War Battlefield Map
Battle that Saved Washington Map.jpg
Battle that Saved Washington Map

Battle of Monocacy History Map
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Monocacy Civil War Battle Map

Battle: Confederate Maj. Gen. Stephen Dodson Ramseur's division encountered Wallace's troops on the Georgetown Pike near the Best Farm; Maj. Gen. Robert E. Rodes' division clashed with the Federals on the National Road (see: Battle of Monocacy: Confederate Order of Battle and Battle of Monocacy: Union Order of Battle). Prisoners taken during this phase told the Confederates that the entire VI Corps was present; this seemed to have heightened the Confederates' caution and they did not initially press their numerical advantage. Believing that a frontal attack across the Monocacy would be too costly, Early sent John McCausland's cavalry down Buckeystown Road to find a ford and outflank the Union line. McCausland forded the Monocacy below the McKinney-Worthington Ford and attacked Wallace's left flank. Believing that they had outflanked the Union positions and due to the rolling terrain, they did not notice that Ricketts' veterans had taken a position at a fence separating the Worthington and Thomas farms. Consequently, the Union line was able to fire a volley that panicked the Confederates. McCausland was able to rally his brigade and launched another attack, but was unable to break the Union division.
When it became apparent that the cavalry alone would not be able to break the Union flank, Early sent Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon's division across the ford to assist in the attack. Gordon launched a three-pronged attack against Ricketts' center and both flanks. Ricketts' regiments on the right flank were pushed back and allowed the Confederates to enfilade the rest of the Union line. Due to pressure from Ramseur's attack on the Union center, Wallace was unable to reinforce Ricketts; the entire Union line was rendered untenable and Wallace ordered a retreat towards Baltimore, with Tyler's brigade and the cavalry acting as a rearguard.

Battle of Monocacy and Union Retreat
Civil War Battle of Monocacy, Maryland.jpg
Civil War Battle of Monocacy, Maryland

Civil War Monocacy Battlefield History
Battle of Monocacy.jpg
Battle of Monocacy

Aftermath and Analysis: The Battle of Monocacy (also known as Monocacy Junction) was fought on July 9, 1864, just outside Frederick, Maryland, as part of the Valley Campaigns of 1864, in the American Civil War. Confederate forces under Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early defeated Union forces under Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace. The battle was part of Early's raid through the Shenandoah Valley and into Maryland, attempting to divert Union forces away from Gen. Robert E. Lee's army under siege at Petersburg, Virginia.


By late afternoon the Federals, following the northernmost Confederate victory of the war, were retreating toward Baltimore, leaving behind hundreds of dead, wounded, and captured. Later, General Wallace gave orders to collect the bodies of the dead in a burial ground on the battlefield where he proposed a monument to read: "These men died to save the National Capital, and they did save it."


The way lay open to Washington. Early's army had won the field at Monocacy, but at the expense of hundreds of killed and wounded and at least one day lost. The next morning the Confederates marched on, and by midday Monday, Early stood inside the District of Columbia at Fort Stevens. Early could see the Capitol Dome through his glasses. But with his troops spread out far behind him and seeing the impressive Fort Stevens, decided not to attack. However there were artillery exchanges and skirmishes that day, July 11, 1864, and the following day. On July 13, Early retraced his steps and crossed the Potomac back into Virginia at White's Ferry. Monocacy cost Early a day's march and his chance to capture Washington. Thwarted in the attempt to take the capital, the Confederates returned to Virginia, ending their last campaign to carry the war into the North. 

Battle of Monocacy
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Battle of Monocacy Interpretive Map

General Early wrote in a report regarding the 1864 campaign:

Some of the Northern papers stated that, between Saturday and Monday, I could have entered the city; but on Saturday I was fighting at Monocacy, thirty-five miles from Washington, a force which I could not leave in my rear; and after disposing of that force and moving as rapidly as it was possible for me to move, I did not arrive in front of the fortifications until after noon on Monday, and then my troops were exhausted ...


General Grant also assessed Wallace's delaying tactics at Monocacy:

If Early had been but one day earlier, he might have entered the capital before the arrival of the reinforcements I had sent .... General Wallace contributed on this occasion by the defeat of the troops under him, a greater benefit to the cause than often falls to the lot of a commander of an equal force to render by means of a victory.


Although the battle was a military victory for the Confederates and their only victory in the north, it was also a defeat. The time spent fighting the battle cost the Confederates a crucial day of marching and provided the Union time to send reinforcements to Washington, D.C. General Early’s army returned to Virginia and the remainder of the war was fought on southern soil. Because of General Wallace’s valiant delaying action, the Battle of Monocacy became known as the “Battle that Saved Washington.”

Frederick County, Maryland, Map
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Civil War Battle of Monocacy

The City of Frederick, location of the Battle of Monocacy, is a city in north-central Maryland and it is the county seat for Frederick County.
Frederick County is located in the western part of Maryland, bordering the southern border of Pennsylvania and the northeastern border of Virginia.

Frederick's status as a major crossroads put the town at the center of the Maryland campaigns of the Civil War, during which both Union and Confederate troops marched through the city. General Stonewall Jackson led his light infantry division through Frederick on his way to the battles of Crampton's, Fox's and Turner's Gaps and Antietam in September 1862. An incident with Pennsylvania Dutch resident Barbara Fritchie was commemorated in the poem of the same name by John Greenleaf Whittier. Union Major General Jesse L. Reno's IX Corps followed Jackson's men through the city a few days later on the way to the Battle of South Mountain, where Reno was killed. In July 1864, Confederate troops led by Lieutenant General Jubal Early passed through Frederick towards Washington, D.C., via Monocacy Junction. Union troops under Major General Lew Wallace awaited the Confederate advancement at Monocacy Junction which led to the Battle of Monocacy.

(Sources and related reading listed below.)

Recommended Reading: Desperate Engagement: How a Little-Known Civil War Battle Saved Washington, D.C., and Changed American History. Description: The Battle of Monocacy, which took place on the blisteringly hot day of July 9, 1864, is one of the Civil War’s most significant yet little-known battles. What played out that day in the corn and wheat fields four miles south of Frederick, Maryland, was a full-field engagement between 12,000 battle-hardened Confederate troops led by the controversial Jubal Anderson Early, and 5,800 Union troops, many of them untested in battle, under the mercurial Lew Wallace, the future author of Ben-Hur. When the fighting ended, 1,300 Union troops were dead, wounded or missing or had been taken prisoner, and Early---who suffered 800 casualties---had routed Wallace in the northernmost Confederate victory of the war. Two days later, on another brutally hot afternoon, Monday, July 11, 1864, Early sat astride his horse outside the gates of Fort Stevens in the upper northwestern fringe of Washington, D.C. He was about to make one of the war’s most fateful, portentous decisions: whether or not to order his men to invade the nation’s capitol. Continued below...

Early had been on the march since June 13, when Robert E. Lee ordered him to take an entire corps of men from their Richmond-area encampment and wreak havoc on Yankee troops in the Shenandoah Valley, then to move north and invade Maryland. If Early found the conditions right, Lee said, he was to take the war for the first time into President Lincoln’s front yard. Also on Lee’s agenda: forcing the Yankees to release a good number of troops from the stranglehold that Gen. U.S. Grant had built around Richmond Among the more memorable key-players are Early, the daring general of the valley; Lew Wallace (who would later author “Ben Hur”), who attempts to block Early's advance; and George Davis, from Vermont, who was awarded the Medal of Honor during this fiercely contested campaign. This is a fine recounting of a relatively obscure but quite interesting series of events, and both the general reader and Civil War aficionados will enjoy it. The book also contains sixty-one illustrations.

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Recommended Reading: Jubal Early's Raid on Washington. Description: "Cooling has produced what is sure to become the definitive scholarly account of the campaign. Drawing on a vast array of sources, including seldom-used veterans' accounts, Cooling presents a comprehensive campaign study from origins to aftermath. Not only does Cooling masterfully describe the specific movements of the opposing forces, but he also never loses sight of the wider context in which the campaign was fought. Continued below…

In fact, Cooling's greatest contribution may be his clear demonstration that Grant was fooled by Early's operations and took an uncommonly long time to react to a very serious threat." - American Historical Review." About the Author: B.F. Cooling is chief historian of the Department of Energy and has won the Douglas Southall Freeman Award and the Fletcher Pratt Award for best Civil War history book.

Recommended Reading: Freedom Rising: Washington in the Civil War. Description: In this luminous portrait of wartime Washington, Ernest B. Furgurson–author of the widely acclaimed Chancellorsville 1863, Ashes of Glory, and Not War but Murder--brings to vivid life the personalities and events that animated the Capital during its most tumultuous time. Continued below... 

Here among the sharpsters and prostitutes, slaves and statesmen are detective Allan Pinkerton, tracking down Southern sympathizers; poet Walt Whitman, nursing the wounded; and accused Confederate spy Antonia Ford, romancing her captor, Union Major Joseph Willard. Here are generals George McClellan and Ulysses S. Grant, railroad crew boss Andrew Carnegie, and architect Thomas Walter, striving to finish the Capitol dome. And here is Abraham Lincoln, wrangling with officers, pardoning deserters, and inspiring the nation. Freedom Rising is a gripping account of the era that transformed Washington into the world’s most influential city.


Recommended Reading: Season of Fire: The Confederate Strike on Washington (Hardcover: 300 pages). Editorial Review from Booklist: In 1864, Confederate General Jubal Early, outraged by Union depredations in the Shenandoah Valley by the Federals, launched a bold but futile raid on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. With this event as the central focus of his narrative, Judge has written a fascinating and riveting account of the men in battle. He masterfully maintains both dramatic tension and historical accuracy by relating the events through the memoirs of the actual participants. Judge explains the military maneuvers in language that laypersons can easily grasp, and his portrayals of the key participants breathe life into the account. Continued below...

Among the more memorable key-players are Early, the daring general of the valley; Lew Wallace (who would later author “Ben Hur”), who attempts to block Early's advance; and George Davis, from Vermont, who was awarded the Medal of Honor during this fiercely contested campaign. This is a fine recounting of a relatively obscure but quite interesting series of events, and both the general reader and Civil War aficionados will enjoy it. The book also contains sixty-one illustrations.


Recommended Reading: Reveille in Washington, 1860 - 1865. Description: Winner of the 1942 Pulitzer Prize in History, it is an authentic, scholarly description of life in Washington during the Civil War, written in a highly readable style. The "star" of the book is, indeed, the city of Washington D.C. Many players walk across the D.C. stage, and Leech's research paints vivid portraits not seen before about the Lincolns, Walt Whitman, Andrew Carnegie, Winfield Scott, John Wilkes Booth, and many others. Continued below...

It's the "Capitol" that you have never really seen or heard that much about… It's a scrappy, dusty, muddy, unfinished city, begging for respect. Washington City, as it was called then, was both a respite for Union soldiers, as well as the Union Army’s “prostitution headquarters.” From the so-called 'highlife to the lowlife', the politician to the pauper, all receive their respectful, or rightful, place in this delightful but candid prose.

Recommended Reading: Shenandoah Summer: The 1864 Valley Campaign. Description: Jubal A. Early’s disastrous battles in the Shenandoah Valley ultimately resulted in his ignominious dismissal. But Early’s lesser-known summer campaign of 1864, between his raid on Washington and Phil Sheridan’s renowned fall campaign, had a significant impact on the political and military landscape of the time. By focusing on military tactics and battle history in uncovering the facts and events of these little-understood battles, Scott C. Patchan offers a new perspective on Early’s contributions to the Confederate war effort—and to Union battle plans and politicking. Patchan details the previously unexplored battles at Rutherford’s Farm and Kernstown (a pinnacle of Confederate operations in the Shenandoah Valley) and examines the campaign’s influence on President Lincoln’s reelection efforts. Continued below…

He also provides insights into the personalities, careers, and roles in Shenandoah of Confederate General John C. Breckinridge, Union general George Crook, and Union colonel James A. Mulligan, with his “fighting Irish” brigade from Chicago. Finally, Patchan reconsiders the ever-colorful and controversial Early himself, whose importance in the Confederate military pantheon this book at last makes clear. About the Author: Scott C. Patchan, a Civil War battlefield guide and historian, is the author of Forgotten Fury: The Battle of Piedmont, Virginia, and a consultant and contributing writer for Shenandoah, 1862.


"The author's descriptions of the battles are very detailed, full or regimental level actions, and individual incidents. He bases the accounts on commendable research in manuscript collections, newspapers, published memoirs and regimental histories, and secondary works. The words of the participants, quoted often by the author, give the narrative an immediacy. . . . A very creditable account of a neglected period."-Jeffry D. Wert, Civil War News (Jeffry D. Wert Civil War News 20070914)

"[Shenandoah Summer] contains excellent diagrams and maps of every battle and is recommended reading for those who have a passion for books on the Civil War."-Waterline (Waterline 20070831)

"The narrative is interesting and readable, with chapters of a digestible length covering many of the battles of the campaign."-Curled Up With a Good Book (Curled Up With a Good Book 20060815)

"Shenandoah Summer provides readers with detailed combat action, colorful character portrayals, and sound strategic analysis. Patchan''s book succeeds in reminding readers that there is still plenty to write about when it comes to the American Civil War."-John Deppen, Blue & Grey Magazine (John Deppen Blue & Grey Magazine 20060508)

"Scott C. Patchan has solidified his position as the leading authority of the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign with his outstanding campaign study, Shenandoah Summer. Mr. Patchan not only unearths this vital portion of the campaign, he has brought it back to life with a crisp and suspenseful narrative. His impeccable scholarship, confident analyses, spellbinding battle scenes, and wonderful character portraits will captivate even the most demanding readers. Shenandoah Summer is a must read for the Civil War aficionado as well as for students and scholars of American military history."-Gary Ecelbarger, author of "We Are in for It!": The First Battle of Kernstown, March 23, 1862 (Gary Ecelbarger 20060903)

"Scott Patchan has given us a definitive account of the 1864 Valley Campaign. In clear prose and vivid detail, he weaves a spellbinding narrative that bristles with detail but never loses sight of the big picture. This is a campaign narrative of the first order."-Gordon C. Rhea, author of The Battle of the Wilderness: May 5-6, 1864 (Gordon C. Rhea )

"[Scott Patchan] is a `boots-on-the-ground' historian, who works not just in archives but also in the sun and the rain and tall grass. Patchan's mastery of the topography and the battlefields of the Valley is what sets him apart and, together with his deep research, gives his analysis of the campaign an unimpeachable authority."-William J. Miller, author of Mapping for Stonewall and Great Maps of the Civil War (William J. Miller)

Try the Search Engine for Related Studies: Battle of Monocacy History, Battlefield of Monocacy Maryland, Battle that saved Washington D C General Jubal Early’s Raid Against the B & O Railroads Shenandoah Valley Campaign Operations Maps, Map

Sources: National Park Service; Civil War Preservation Trust; Library of Congress; Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies; Cooling, Benjamin F. Jubal Early's Raid on Washington 1864. Baltimore, MD: The Nautical & Aviation Publishing Company of America, 1989. ISBN 0-933852-86-X; Cooling, Benjamin F. Monocacy: The Battle That Saved Washington. Shippensburg, PA: White Mane, 1997. ISBN 1-57249-032-2; Eicher, David J. The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001. ISBN 0-684-84944-5; Kennedy, Frances H., ed. The Civil War Battlefield Guide. 2nd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1998. ISBN 0-395-74012-6; Leepson, Marc. "The 'Great Rebel Raid.'" Civil War Times, August 2007 (Volume XLVI, number 6).

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